Going for a routine eye exam is essential to check the health of your eyes, and skipping out on this important examination could have detrimental effects on your health. This is because your eyes aren’t just the windows to your soul—they offer up valuable information about your overall health. More specifically, your eye doctor can tell how your circulation is doing.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University suggest that changes in the eye’s retina could help doctors find people who are at risk for narrowing of large blood vessels in the legs. This condition is known as peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Heart specialist Dr. Samy Selim explained, “PAD is estimated to affect approximately 8.5 million Americans above the age of 40 years and is associated with significant morbidity, mortality, and quality of life impairment…Physician screening for PAD is not satisfactory, to say the least.”
Eye exams can reveal circulation problems
The research team investigated nearly 9,400 adults who were tracked for over 19 years. Over the course of the study, over 300 individuals developed PAD, which required surgery to open up the narrow arteries.
Of the PAD group, 92 percent of patients developed a severe form known as critical limb ischemia, which can create ulcers that require amputation in some cases.
After adjusting for other risk factors that could contribute to PAD, the researchers found that patients with tiny blood vessels of the retina had over double the risk of developing PAD compared to those with normal blood vessels. The link between abnormal blood vessels of the retina and PAD risk was highest among diabetes, according to researchers.
Selim added, “Looking at the back of the eye’s retina can be done in primary care offices as part of a routine clinical exam. Hopefully one day, a look at the eye will hold clues to the future of the legs — which will be an alert to the heart outcome and a signal to start effective prevention and treatment.”
The study reaffirms the importance of going for regular eye exams, as spotting changes to the eye could be the difference between life and death. If PAD is discovered early, treatment can take place and prevent complications. Unfortunately, if PAD is not discovered early on, it can progress and may lead to amputation of the limb.
Related: Poor circulation: Common causes, symptoms, and diagnosis tips